A molecular toolkit for superorganisms

Trends Genet. 2021 Sep;37(9):846-859. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2021.05.005. Epub 2021 Jun 8.


Social insects, such as ants, bees, wasps, and termites, draw biologists' attention due to their distinctive lifestyles. As experimental systems, they provide unique opportunities to study organismal differentiation, division of labor, longevity, and the evolution of development. Ants are particularly attractive because several ant species can be propagated in the laboratory. However, the same lifestyle that makes social insects interesting also hampers the use of molecular genetic techniques. Here, we summarize the efforts of the ant research community to surmount these hurdles and obtain novel mechanistic insight into the biology of social insects. We review current approaches and propose novel ones involving genomics, transcriptomics, chromatin and DNA methylation profiling, RNA interference (RNAi), and genome editing in ants and discuss future experimental strategies.

Keywords: CRISPR; RNAi; ants; epigenetics; single-cell sequencing; transgenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Chromatin / genetics
  • Genome, Insect
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • RNA Interference
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Social Behavior


  • Chromatin